Overcoming the Fear of Judgment: Authenticity and #ThisGirlCan

Sport England launched its TV ad campaign for ‘This Girl Can‘ last night, all aimed at increasing women’s participation in sport and empowering us to embrace exercise.

It’s a wonderfully inspiring film and struck a particular chord with me, not just because the advert features open water swimming and a woman kicking arse running up a hill to a Missy Elliott soundtrack, but above all, because of its authenticity.

A lot of people talk about the importance of “being yourself”, but knowing what that is can be difficult – sometimes we get lost or we become hidden; and the ‘being’ bit isn’t always straightforward either.

Sport is often the place where all of that comes to the fore.

Olivia Parker’s article in the Telegraph describes how Sport England’s research found that “2 million fewer women are regularly participating in sport or exercise than men, despite 75 per cent of women aged 14 to 40 saying they’d like to do more.” They also identified that ‘fear of judgment’ was the biggest barrier preventing women from doing exercise. Other research has also found that 1/3 of young girls think that exercise is socially unacceptable . Something which I have written about previously on the blog.

Each section of the This Girl Can film evokes images from my own sporting life past and present, like the endorphin rush, agility and team work of school netball. It also allows me to reflect on some of the battles that have choreographed those experiences. For example, hiding in my living room in 1997 doing a Jet out of the Gladiators fitness video because I was too self conscious about the weight I’d put on to exercise in public (note it is a fantastic video and was, for me, a great place to start getting fit again).

Although I have  been extremely sporty at different points in my life, my biggest moments of doubt are when I have had a break (sometimes that’s meant a ‘rest’ lasting a few years) and make a return to exercise – That I love exercise and the outdoors would come as a massive shock to many people who knew me in my twenties.

Who knew swimming could be so much fun ?!

Who knew swimming could be so much fun ?!

I have found that it is at the point of making a return to activity that my fear of judgment is at its height, and when, the little voice in my head is doubt’s strongest advocate: “How could you have let yourself go like this?” And then, having mustered the courage to make that first step and head to my local leisure centre, doing the walk from the changing room to the pool thinking, “You don’t belong here.”

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Thankfully I got in the water – there comes a point where that flicker of intent becomes a fire of commitment; well that, and the realisation that no matter how out of place you feel in your head, it would be even more weird if you headed back into the changing room – and so I began an amazing journey into open water swimming, well-being and an array of adventures on land, sea and air.

I am so excited to see swimming and open water swimming feature so prominently in the This Girl Can campaign. When we exercise, we are exposed in a different light (and in the case of swimming, we really do bare our physical selves), but where once just the thought of putting my cossy or trainers on induced questioning apprehension, they now open a door to liberation, a lot of fun, health and friendship.

Swimming with the NWSSSG all women elite commando squad: Photo: Gill Williams

Swimming in the Isle of Skye with the NWSSSG all women elite commando squad, part of the Outdoor Swimming Society’s Adventure swim series: Photo: Gill Williams

It is those friendships that continue to inspire me to keep on my path and embrace well being.

Of course I still have doubts and that little voice hasn’t completely gone away, but then one day you discover that the girl who hid in her living room doing the Jet out of the Gladiators fitness video, is now happily pictured in the Telegraph emerging from the Serpentine in a bikini on Christmas day, and you realise anything’s possible.

Here’s to embracing authenticity. #ThisGirlCan.

"Fu 荣出水“ Out of the Water a Lotus Rises: The Serpentine Peter Pan Cup Christmas Day 2014 as featured in the Telegraph online and other press (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“芙蓉出水“ Out of the Water a Lotus Rises: The Serpentine Peter Pan Cup Christmas Day 2014 as featured in the Telegraph online and other press (Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA) #thisgirlcan

Related Posts and a Thank You

See also ‘How to feel good [nearly] naked’  about how one of the things I love most about open water swimming is that for a sport where everyone pretty much gets naked most of the time, body image feels irrelevant – I have never asked anyone if my bum looks big in my swimming costume; and celebrating women in sport in Finding Our Personal Best. Team Mel C vs Team Pendleton: The Human Race Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon.

And last but definitely not least,  a big thank you to Jo and Pat with whom I was able to explore the link between authenticity, joy and happiness on their yoga retreat at new year.

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

Get in touch:

At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and even swimming marathons.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and alotusrises@gmail.com. We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!



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